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Florida duo tried to turn Ashley Biden’s diary into $200K payday

Joe Biden and daughter Ashley in 2017.

Joe Biden and daughter Ashley in 2017.

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They were expecting to make $100,000 each, maybe more.

Instead, they got caught, got charged, pleaded guilty and now face up to five years in prison.

All this over a diary — but not just any diary. It was the lost diary of Ashley Biden, whose father was then running for president.

According to prosecutors, Aimee Harris of Palm Beach found it in 2020 when she moved into the Delray Beach house of a friend. The same friend happened to host the daughter of the future president a few months earlier. Ashley Biden, it turns out, had left behind the diary and other items, including a digital camera and a memory card with photos of her family. Harris found them, and thought they might be a gold mine.

She confided in a friend, Robert Kurlander, and he wrote back that he would help her “make a SH*T TON of money.”

Their first thought was the campaign of Biden’s rival, incumbent President Donald Trump. The Trump campaign was holding a fundraiser locally in early September.

“On Sunday you may have a chance to make so much money,” Kurlander wrote to Harris before the fundraiser, according to the Justice Department.

Harris had more good news for Kurlander. It wasn’t just the diary but other Ashley Biden possessions.

“Omg. Coming with stuff that neither one of us have seen or spoken about,” she wrote to her friend. “I can’t wait to show you what Mama has to bring Papa.”

But their foray failed.

“They want it to go to the FBI,” Kurlander wrote to Harris, referring to the Trump campaign, a few days later. “It has to be done a different way . . . .”

That’s when they shifted to plan B, the Justice Department alleged: an outfit called Project Veritas, which is a conservative group that specializes in infiltrating news organizations and secretly shooting video, hoping to document liberal bias and deliberate distortion of the news. Typically it then publishes the video.

Harris and Kurlander began corresponding with an employee of the group through an encrypted messaging application and after sending photos of some of what they had, the group agreed to fly Kurlander and Harris into New York, and put them up in a luxury hotel.

“Let’s have fun ! ! ! ! !,” Kurlander texted Harris before they boarded a plane, according to charging documents. “And make money.”

The first meeting went well and Project Veritas agreed to pay the Florida pair $10,000 to start, with more to come if they provided more material.

Kurlander wrote to Harris that he was expecting Project Veritas to pay “up to $100,000 each maybe more.”

He made it clear to his contact at Project Veritas that they would need more money to provide more of Ashley Biden’s possessions.

“[W]e don’t want to do more or anything else or give anything else until we have some considerations spelled out,” he wrote via the app. “We are taking huge risks. This isn’t fair.”

Harris would wind up taking more of Ashley Biden’s things from the house — including tax documents — and providing the material to the Project Veritas employee who flew down to Florida to retrieve it and then shipped it back up to New York.

Harris and Kurlander were ultimately paid $40,000 by Project Veritas for their efforts, far short of their initial goal, charging documents stated.

Project Veritas never published the material, though pages from the diary ultimately appeared online on another conservative site weeks before the 2020 presidential election. The FBI searched the homes of several employees of Project Veritas in connection with the investigation into the stolen diary, though the group defended its actions as legitimate news-gathering efforts.

For Kurlander, who is 58, it appears to have not been his first time serving as an intermediary in an illicit transaction.

In 1992, a Robert Kurlander, who would now be 58 and was then of Palm Beach Gardens, was arrested along with David Witter, the grandson of stockbroker Dean Witter, when he was caught agreeing to help launder what he thought was illegal drug money. The man Kurlander believed to be a drug smuggler was, in fact, a confidential informant for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Kurlander ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 1996 to 40 months in prison. He wound up being released two years later in June 1998.

His defense attorney at the time, Anthony Natale, remembered Kurlander as a successful stockbroker with wealthy connections and said he’s often wondered what became of him.

“He was one of the clients that you never forget,” Natale said. “He was just a real character.”

FBI agents questioned Aimee Harris sometime in the summer of 2021, her former landlord Arvo Katajisto recalled.

Katajisto had allowed Harris to stay in one of his apartments for free a few months earlier while she was in the midst of a custody battle but asked her to begin paying rent after the dispute was over. Harris didn’t pay, and wouldn’t leave, either. Katajisto described her as a difficult tenant, who frequently complained, and he ultimately took her to court to evict her for non-payment.

He recalled that when the FBI agents came to question Harris, he told them, “Whatever she’s done, please get her out of my apartment.”

Harris’ lawyer Sam Talking said that Harris, “has accepted full responsibility for her actions and looks forward to putting this behind her and leading a law-abiding life.”

A lawyer for Kurlander declined to comment.

They each face up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to transport stolen property across state lines. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York indicated that Kurlander is cooperating with the government.

Neither Project Veritas nor its employees have been charged in connection with the theft.

The conservative group was created by James O’Keefe in 2010 in the wake of two undercover video projects he had previously produced targeting Planned Parenthood and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN. It has long declared itself to be a media organization and defended its role in the acquisition of the Biden material on those grounds.

“Project Veritas’ news gathering was ethical and legal. A journalist’s lawful receipt of material later alleged to be stolen is routine, commonplace, and protected by the First Amendment,” a spokesperson for the group said in a statement.

First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutrous, a partner at Gibson Dunn, said media organizations have “broad latitude” to get more information in the public interest, even if the materials they are obtaining were originally obtained by another party illegally.

The Biden case presents a few key questions, he said, including whether the work Project Veritas does is truly considered news gathering “as opposed to political trickery,” and whether Ashley Biden’s diary and other materials were truly of public concern.

Prosecutors wrote that a Project Veritas employee directed Harris and Kurlander to take more of Biden’s possessions, but Boutrous said that merely expressing an interest in having more of the Biden material could be protected by the First Amendment.

“Were they enmeshed in the law-breaking is the real question to me,” he said.

This story was originally published August 25, 2022 7:43 PM.

Ben Wieder is a data and investigative reporter in McClatchy’s Washington bureau. He worked previously at the Center for Public Integrity and Stateline. His work has been honored by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, National Press Foundation, Online News Association and Association of Health Care Journalists.

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